Saturday, December 30, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Little Dusting Of Snow On My Hometown

[This article first appeared on the Intellectual Takeout
website. See link at right.] 

When it comes to public relations, small towns and
cities usually come up short in national and global
news stories.

This has always been true of my hometown of Erie, PA
whose most common claim to fame is its regular
appearance in the New York Times Sunday crossword
puzzle as an urban four-letter word beginning with “E.”

Nevertheless, Erie does have one perennial world-class
distinction --- it usually leads the nation in snowfall. This
is due to a relatively rare weather condition know as
“lake-effect snow.” Simply explained, a cold air mass
crosses a body of water which is warmer, picks up its
water vapor, freezes it, and deposits the resulting snow
when it reaches the shore.

The southern shore of Lake Erie is one of the world’s
major sites for lake-effect snow because it is often in the
direct path of Arctic cold waves. Cleveland, Erie and
Buffalo usually contend for the national championship for
annual urban snowfall, and Erie often leads the pack.

As I write this, however, news stories and photos across
the nation and around the world are featuring Erie’s
latest snow “dusting” because, even by my hometown’s
standards, this is a big one.

In less than two days, more than 65 inches of snow fell
on the city.  (UPDATE: An additional 14-inch lake-effect
snowstorm is expected imminently)
The previous one-day
record in Erie was 27 inches on November 22, 1956. (I
remember that day distinctly because it was
Thanksgiving Day, and the family dinner was at our
house. I was a young boy, and I was thrilled that it not
only meant I could hang out with my aunts, uncles and
cousins longer than usual, it also  meant school was
closed for more a week.)

I still have friends and family in Erie, so I have been calling
there to make sure everyone is o.k. Some old friends live in
North East, PA, about 20 miles from downtown in Erie at the
east end of the county. They only received 12 inches of snow
because lake effect snow is often very limited, controlled as
it is by southerly winds. Life for them is normal for winter,
and they are as much curious onlookers to the nearby historic
blizzard as are those living in far-away Madrid, Tokyo,
Buenos Aires and Capetown.

In the past, Erie has had some interesting distinctions. A
typical manufacturing rust belt city, it once led the world in
the production of nuts and bolts, meters, fine paper and,
until recently, diesel locomotives. Those days are now over.
Many of the big industrial names in Erie, including
Hammermill Paper, Kaiser Aluminum, Bucyrus-Erie, Zurn,
American Sterilizer, Marx Toys, and Erie Forge and Steel,
are long gone. General Electric, once one of the nation’s
largest plants, seems on the verge of leaving. Erie Insurance,
the city’s only Fortune 500 company, is now the leading local
industry, as are other white collar employers in the city’s
hospital/medical, college/university and tourist industries.

These commercial trends are the way of the modern world.
Everything does change. Only Erie’s world-class beaches on
its Presque Isle peninsula (which forms a protective arm
for the city’s port and waterfront) are a constant. But even
they (since the peninsula is really a giant sandbar) are
shifting and reforming along the lake.

The snow however, as it has for thousand of years, keeps
falling in great and noteworthy amounts. Where I live now,
in Minnesota, there is not so much snow, but there are
numbing below-zero temperatures that are not felt in Erie.
The Great Lake, in addition to it legendary snow effect, also
protects the city from extreme cold.

Robert Frost in his great poem “Fire and Ice” spoke of
eternal outcomes of heat and cold. Nature, of course,
makes the choices, and in the end, it is the greatest force
for truly newsworthy public relations.

Thousands of Erieites are now sitting in their homes, waiting
for the storm to abate, Their cars are snowed in, their streets
are choked and undriveable. In the hustle-bustle of our modern
world, there aren’t many indelible opportunities for families
to have no choice but just be together for a while. I remember
fondly such a moment during that Thanksgiving in Erie in 1956.

I hope the neighbors of my hometown are enjoying their
historic occasion.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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